For conservation with no maritime limits: WWF-Ecuador’s statement regarding the presence of a foreign fishing fleet in the vicinity of the Galapagos Marine Reserve
WWF-Ecuador urgently calls on the Ecuadorian Government to take the necessary measures in the short, medium and long term to ensure conservation of marine biodiversity, sustainability of fishery resources and resilience of our seas. This event occurs in international waters, outside the limits of national jurisdiction, which makes it a complex problem that must be addressed from various fronts and at different levels.
International waters make up two thirds of the world's oceans, these are all marine areas that are not part of EEZ or inland waters. There are currently no clear management or property policies on international waters, meaning that the situation Ecuador is currently dealing with is a geopolitical problem faced by all coastal countries worldwide.
Despite the existence of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), known as the “constitution of the sea”; regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) for the management of certain species such as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Organization - SPRFMO, of which our country and several other coastal states are members; these international cooperation efforts continue to be insufficient to effectively regulate, order, control and ensure that fishing activities on the high seas are responsible and sustainable. A clear example of this problem is that not all countries are adhered to the UNCLOS, nor are they part of the RFMOs, and consequently, international waters become propitious scenarios for the development of activities that threaten the sustainability of sea resources and the conservation of marine biodiversity, and even become spaces for illegal activities such as piracy, fuel smuggling, human rights violations, drug trafficking and illegal fishing.
Either because RFMOs often ignore scientists' recommendations - putting very short-term economic interests before them -, due to the impunity that illegal fishing often operates with, or because there are governments that subsidize their fishing fleets (the oversized Chinese fleet is an example of this), the planet's fishing resources are decreasing. This is corroborated by FAO, which in its latest report on the State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture - 2020, points out that a third of the world's fish stocks are caught on an unsustainable manner and are overfished.
This is why it is important that countries cooperate to responsibly and sustainably manage the oceans as a global asset, so that they can guarantee food security and subsistence for millions of people.
Important marine currents converge in the marine territory of Ecuador, which is 5.5 times larger than the terrestrial territory: the warm current of El Niño, the cold current of Humboldt and the Equatorial current. This results in an important movement of nutrients that originates the richness of specimens that migrate and swim through our territorial waters. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is a large area of reproduction, feeding and repopulation for the Eastern Pacific Ocean, and fishing boats are taking advantage of what comes out of it, a phenomenon known as the "overflow" effect or “spill-over”.
WWF-Ecuador urges the competent authorities of Ecuador to take some measures to control these activities and mitigate the effects of fishing fleets in international waters. Firstly, to request - based on the UNCLOS - sovereignty over the Carnegie Submarine Range, which is the space located between 200 continental miles and 200 miles of the Galapagos, in order to prevent the passage of foreign fishing fleets and guarantee the migration of a series of species between the mainland and the Galapagos. For this, it is necessary to conclude the scientific studies that demonstrate the connection between the Continent and the Galapagos Islands, contributing to the solution to this problem. The institution in charge of presenting this technical study, which started years ago, is the Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute of the Ecuadorian Army, and the deadline for the country to present this is September 2022.
Secondly, the protection of a larger area of the Exclusive Economic Zone is important. This expansion would help guarantee the migration of key marine species, therefore, it should have scientific studies as a basis, and be the result of a broad participatory process of consultation with key stakeholders.
Thirdly, strengthen the Eastern Tropical Pacific Conservation Marine Corridor (CMAR), a regional initiative that seeks the adequate management of biodiversity and marine resources in four countries: Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.
Fourthly, by making use of all the national technological capacity of the Ecuadorian Army, it is necessary to identify the type of vessels and fishing gear used by foreign fishing fleets, and to verify, through the RFMOs, that all vessels are included in the records of those legally authorized to operate in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. In the event that they are not in these registers, Ecuador, in its capacity as a cooperating part of these organizations, must report the fact to the corresponding RFMO, and request that these ships are immediately included in the lists of ships participating in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities.
Fifthly, Ecuador should lead the development of a regional strategy that includes diplomatic elements, that become operational through navies of each country, and even commercial elements, to face the threat posed by the presence of foreign fishing fleets in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
Lastly, Ecuador should adopt a much more proactive leadership role in relation to the negotiation process of the future United Nations Convention on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), which has been called the Global Ocean Treaty. This will become the legally binding international instrument on marine biological diversity in areas outside national jurisdiction.
Ecuador is the first country to recognize the Rights of Nature at a Constitutional level; it is a signatory to several international agreements, CONVEMAR among them; and it is an active member of two RFMOs in the region. In view of the foregoing, today the country has the opportunity to assume a regional leading role in the face of this complex problem, taking concrete actions at the national level and promoting actions at the regional and global level that help curb this constant threat.